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National Trust for Scotland

Reimagining Robert Burns: Digitally Unveiling Scotland's Bard

Ayrshire, Scotland

  • Intuitive search and discovery functionality that allows for deep exploration of Burns' work
  • Integration of thousands of deep-zoom, IIIF images and extensive archival data
  • Elegant relationship explorer, offering new insights into Burns' connections with his contemporaries
  • Tools to curate rich media and thematic pages, providing visitors with a multifaceted view of Burns' life and work

The National Trust for Scotland has stood as a guardian of Scottish heritage, caring for and promoting Scotland's natural and cultural treasures since 1931. As the largest membership organisation in Scotland, it ensures the preservation and accessibility of the nation’s historical sites and collections, including the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

In a collaborative effort with the National Trust for Scotland, Cogapp has facilitated a new level of digital access to the unique Robert Burns Birthplace Museum collection. Utilising advanced digital tools and the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), this project enables both in-depth academic research and broader public exploration of Robert Burns' works and influence.

Screen shot showing a grid of search results from the Robert Burns online collection with search filters on the right.
Search results with filters to narrow down your results.

Building a better online world for audiences

Advanced digital exploration

For the first time, enthusiasts, scholars, and the general public can navigate through the extensive Robert Burns collection online, directly from the National Trust for Scotland’s website. The platform combines a user-friendly interface with advanced search capabilities and a wide array of filtering options. These empower users to discover the depths of Burns’ work with ease and precision.

Until now, this kind of access was limited to specialised researchers with physical access being the only real option. This project not only makes access easier for academic researchers but also allows anyone with an interest in the life of Burns or his writing to enjoy this magnificent collection.

Contextualised connections

Our relationship explorer tool represents a fusion of collection content and curatorial insights, a hallmark of Cogapp's approach to digital projects. This tool not only maps the network of relationships between Robert Burns and his contemporaries but also enriches these connections with contextual content drawn from the content management system (CMS). This includes pivotal world events and Burns-specific milestones, placing his life and works within the broader tapestry of his times. As visitors navigate through these interconnected stories, they are invited to delve into related narratives on the site or venture externally, embarking on a deeper exploration of the zeitgeist that shaped Burns. This interactivity encourages a dynamic journey through Burns’ era, offering a deeper understanding of how the prevailing social and political climate influenced his creative output.

Screen shot showing an letter from the collection on a timeline to show Burns' relationships with his contemporaries.
A letter from Burns to Mrs. Alexander Stewart with dates and other events alongside to give further context to the communication.

Rich media and thematic narratives

We've enhanced traditional textual content by integrating audio, visual, and thematic elements that portray the vibrancy of Burns’ legacy. These enriched pages offer varied perspectives on Burns’ life, from his poetic compositions to his lasting cultural impact, ensuring a comprehensive and immersive experience.

A screen shot depicting a grid of links to thematic content including: Burns the man, Myths and folklore, Relationships, and Memorialisation and legacy.
Thematic content driven by the collection, created using intuitive authoring tools.
Screen shot of an audio player with Tam o' Shanter being played. The label states the clip is read by Brian Cox.
Accessible audio player allows users to sit back and enjoy the products of Burns creativity.

Deep-zoom imagery via IIIF

Our custom-built IIIF viewer allows users to engage with high-resolution images through deep zoom capabilities. Many of the original letters and manuscripts include the option to view a transcript of the written content alongside the image. This dual-view feature provides an immersive experience that bridges the gap between the visual and textual, enabling a deeper appreciation and understanding of Burns' works.

Zoomed in screenshot of a drawing of birds.
Deep-zoom image viewer allows for close inspection of all objects in the collection.

Building a better online world for The National Trust for Scotland

This digital endeavour not only aids in preserving and disseminating Scotland’s cultural heritage but also leverages its association with Scotland’s national bard to inspire a whole new audience to engage with historical collections. Through this process, we've highlighted and addressed data issues, contributing to significant data cleanup efforts. By breaking down geographical barriers, we've helped to facilitate global access to Burns’ works, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding of his contributions to literature and Scottish identity.

Engagement, education and community

Through the interactive features we've created, the platform not only serves academic research but also engages the broader public. Our approach foregrounds the historical significance of Burns’ work, making it accessible and relevant to today’s audience. This project underscores Cogapp’s dedication to utilising digital technology for the preservation and sharing of cultural heritage. We look forward to the influence this project may have in encouraging similar efforts to further access to our cultural treasures.

Branding and design

Another crucial aspect of the project was to develop a new experience on the website, a digital collection, in a way that is not only sympathetic to the Trust’s existing brand but that actively embraces it.

Working closely with the Trust’s team we were able to extend and flex the existing design system to accommodate new components for what will hopefully be new audiences for the Trust.
Our design is fully accessible to WCAG AA and our iterative approach has allowed us to incorporate design elements that add a richness to the presentation of this historic collection whilst maintaining the Trust’s contemporary look and feel.

Technical approach

National Trust for Scotland is a mature and digitally-minded organisation. With existing infrastructure and processes in place at the Trust, Cogapp was tasked to work within these existing systems to deliver a seamless experience for all visitors.

Working within the Trust’s existing processes and alongside other digital partners, Cogapp was able to manage what was a complex project whilst always maintaining technical quality and an eye on future potential for the Trust. Our approach balances immediate goals alongside longer-term thinking allowing flexibility for enhanced collection features and further integration of collection content throughout the site.

Our experience of Craft CMS was invaluable, as was our domain knowledge when it comes to digital collections. We developed Craft components within the Trust’s CMS ensuring everything we delivered would feel familiar to the Trust’s team and fit in perfectly with their usual workflow.
Mentioned elsewhere, we have ensured maximum value is taken from the IIIF image repositories that the Trust has developed. Alongside the deep-zoom imagery this also allows potential users to compare items from this collection with other, IIIF-enabled, collections held elsewhere, for example those held by The University of Edinburgh.

When it came to deployments to the production environment our team presented changes to the Trust’s IT team to ensure internal QA processes were followed and that all deployments were coordinated and communicated to those responsible for the wider site.

A collage of items from the collection including a set of rosary beads, a drawing, and a hand-written document

Special recognition goes to the collections team at The National Trust for Scotland for their excellent and ongoing work in preparing the data for public consumption. Their dedication has been pivotal in bringing this project to fruition, ensuring that the wealth of Burns' material is not only accessible and engaging for all but also more accurate and informative, thanks to our collaborative data cleanup efforts.